26 December 2010

Cuban aid in Haiti

Here's a story you don't read much about - Cuban doctors and medical workers are doing more work to relieve the cholera and earthquake victims in Haiti and workers from any other country.  Read about it in today's Independent on Sunday I wonder why we hear so little about Cuba's aid work around the world? Could it be that the US government is unhappy to hear any good news about that little island?  I have heard nothing about this on BBC radio or TV, or any other UK TV channel - and yet it's a big story. One bit that the UK government will not like to hear (besotted as it is by anything American) is this:

Imti Choonara, a paediatrician from Derby, leads a delegation of international health professionals at annual workshops in Cuba's third city, Camaguey. "Healthcare in Cuba is phenomenal, and the key is the family doctor, who is much more proactive, and whose focus is on prevention ... The irony is that Cubans came to the UK after the revolution to see how the NHS worked. They took back what they saw, refined it and developed it further; meanwhile we are moving towards the US model,"
One thing is for sure: the longer the US maintains its stance of having nothing to do with Cuba, the better it will be for Cuba.  The moment US business interests are allowed into Cuba, the values that support this kind of aid will begin to disappear and Cuba would be on its way to becoming another Puerto Rico.

25 December 2010

The future of newspapers

There's a very thoughtful article by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books on the future of newspapers.  Basically, his point is that newspapers are going to get rid of their print editions - the big costs of printing and distribution simply are not being met by the current level of ad income and especially since classified ads moved to the Web.  I recall, in the late 90s being at a conference organized by a management consultant friend of mine.  Present was the owner of a local newspaper chain from the mid-West of the USA.  I asked him what he was doing about the threat of the Internet - he replied that he didn't see the main source of his income, classified ads, disappearing.  I wonder what he is doing now and what he might have been doing had he listened to what I was saying?  So, I agree with Lanchester - newspapers would find it cheaper to go totally digital and give away e-readers to those who subscribed.  Lanchester suggests some form of micro-payment and argues that people will be willing to pay to read selected material. Possibly. I think, however, they are going to have to be smarter at negotiating deals with all kinds of advertisers and Web services in addition to making it easy to pay for content you enjoy.

17 December 2010

The blog gets listed

I received an e-mail today telling me that this blog has been ranked number 7 in a list of interesting information science blogs.

I recommend taking a look at the list, there's some interesting stuff there that I hadn't known about previously.

08 December 2010

Giving open access a bad name

I am continually being pestered to review papers for journals that are quite outside the scope of my interests from editorial assistants working for the open access publisher Academic Journals.  I imagine that I am not the only one suffering in this way and the publisher ought to understand that this practice is damaging the open access movement.  Clearly, the people involved have no idea of how to select referees for papers and are presumably relying on a mailing list developed by the publisher without reference to the range of interests of the people involved.  The latest was a request to review for the International Journal of Peace and Development Studies a paper on "Creating space for community-based conservation initiatives (CBCIs) in conventional academics" - I assume that "academies" is intended here.  The paper would need an enormous amount of language editing to make it suitable for any Western journal and my impression is (judging from papers in other journals from this publisher) that they do not receive that kind of attention. This serves only to feed the notion that open access = low quality.  One can't imagine how these journals (and the publisher's home page lists more than 100 titles) are going to survive.

24 November 2010

A nice bit of mail

I was pleased to find in my mail yesterday something of which I had no previous notice.  Apparently, the Bulletin of ASIST, volume 36, no. 3, which celebrated the SIG on Information Behaviour Research, won the 2010 Publication of the Year Award. And, because I contributed a short paper to that issue, I get a Certificate of Recognition!  Now I have to decide if I can find a space on my study wall :-)

21 November 2010

Celebrating Archie

This week, the New Scientist magazine celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first attempt to produce a search engine for the Internet.  This was Archie, developed by Alan Emtage and students at McGill University.  The time was pre-Web and the level of disorganization on Internet sites was even greater than that of Web sites today, so it didn't work very well :-)

The feature in the New Scientist (only available if you subscribe - or buy the paper copy) is not a very coherent study - basically it's a set of "windows', each by a different person, plugging a particular point of view - not the best technology journalism you've ever read.  It's suggested that all kinds of development are in train, and no doubt they are, but will any of these new Google killers every amount to anything?

It's instructive to follow the time chart on page 49, which shows the emergence of Cuil and WikiSearch... and their decease a couple of years later (or in the case of WikiSearch, even earlier).  The fact is that, to get anywhere near challenging Google (assuming you do so before Google buys you up) the technology investment required is enormous.  This is not a low cost of entry business and you are going to have to produce something pretty miraculous to get venture funding that would enable you to grow - fast!

There's the usual nod in the direction of yet another promise of semantic search, depending, as ever, on the willingness to Web authors to tag their work with meaningful tags instead stuff like <h2></h2> - and how soon do you think that will happen? Just about as soon as authors and organizations begin to put up validated xhtml.

Never mind, there's one fun graphic on page 46, with the note: "If this spread [i.e., two times A4] was everything on the Internet, the yellow box [2cms x 1cm] would be the surface Web visible to search engines and the red [3mm x 1.5mm] would be the Websites indexed by search engines so far."  So, a little way to go, eh?

25 October 2010

Norman Horrocks

I was saddened to learn of the death of Norman Horrocks, a man of wide experience and great kindness. I had been in contact with him only recently, as Norman took it upon himself to advise me of changes in the Web sites of US library and information schools, so that I could update the World list... Norman, born in Manchester, England, had worked all over the world, before settling down at the library school of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and it was in Halifax that he died, at the age of 82.  Norman had worked for military intelligence during the Second World War and he recounted something of his time in that role in a chapter in "Covert and overt", published by Information Today.

22 October 2010

Microsoft Academic Search

I see that MSoft have quietly re-introduced their Academic Search - at least I think it is a re-introduction. The original was launched in 2006 and then was closed down in 2008.  I used it originally in Information Research's "Find other papers..." box, but then it disappeared and I changed first to "Live" and then to  "Bing" - which must be just about the silliest name for a search engine that anyone could dream up.

I have no idea when Academic Search was re-introduced and I'm not sure what Microsoft intends with the new offering, other than to directly compete against Google Scholar.

One visualisation feature that does persist is an author time-line - however, this is deeply flawed, since it appears to be unable to separate people with the same name.  So, when I click on my own name as the author of a paper, the author time-line that pops up is for a "Tom Wilson" at the University of Stirling. Not really very helpful :-)  The other result of this is that "Tom Wilson" is wrongly linked to co-authors of "T.D Wilson" (i.e., me) and is credited with more publications and citations than is warranted. At least eight co-authors don't belong to "Tom Wilson" at all.  The further difficulty is that there is also another "T.D. Wilson" and one of my co-authors is credited to him. Finally, the homepage indicated for the Stirling "Tom Wilson" is for another "Tom Wilson" entirely.

It ought to be possible for Microsoft to clean up its act, since standard information extraction procedures ought to be capable of associating papers, authors, journals and co-authors in an intelligent fashion, but, until the situation is remedied don't expect the information you find about authors to be entirely accurate.

15 October 2010

A busy time

The last month has been a pretty hectic one.  I was in Murcia, Spain for the ISIC conference from 26th September to 1st October, during which the University of Murcia held a special ceremony to present me with a Doctor Honoris Causa - since all the conference participants had reserved places, it will probably go down in conference history as quite an unusual event!  The ceremony followed what is known as the "Salamanca Protocol", with academic dress clearly derived from that of 17th century clerics - the tasselled hats, in particular, brought some humorous comment.

Apart from this occasion, the conference was interesting, as usual, but with a lower than usual number of participants - clearly, academic institutions around Europe and N. America are already feeling the pinch.

After a couple of days back home, I flew to Seoul, S. Korea for the 40th anniversary conference of the Korean Society of Library and Information Science to give a keynote on library research.  For this, I used data from the Delphi investigation into the research needs of Swedish librarians.  I stayed a week in Seoul, although the conference lasted only one day, and can report that the kindness and hospitality shown to the foreign speakers (such luminaries as Carol Tenopir, Ross Todd, Wayne Wiegand, and Annemarie Lloyd) was outstanding.

26 September 2010

Another reason for Open Access

I've just learnt from one of my authors that Wiley want $130.00 for reproduction rights of a diagram in one of their journals - which is ridiculous.  I doubt if the authors even know about Wiley's charges and, in any event, they won't see a penny of it.  I'm doubtful whether Wiley are on secure legal grounds anyway.  What is the difference between quoting a paragraph of text (with due attribution) and quoting a diagram (with due attribution)?  Rest assured - if you want your diagrams, etc. to be used by others, so that they get wide publicity and citation, Information Research will not prevent it by charging!

16 September 2010

Britain's decline as an educational force

The Guardian today reports the results of a Times Higher Education ranking of the world's universities, and notes:
The new list reflects concerns raised last week that Britain is lagging behind global competitors in its public investment in higher education. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, published last week, found the share of public spending in British higher education is 0.7% of GDP, below the OECD average of 1%, and behind the US, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Slovenia.Announcing the OECD's results in London, Andreas Schleicher, the head of its indicators and analysis division, said Finland, Canada and Japan were now major players in higher education.
Professor Steve Smith, president of the vice-chancellors' umbrella group Universities UK, last week warned the government against squeezing university funding in the comprehensive spending review next month.
"My worry is that we may be about to make decisions that fundamentally undermine our future capacity to be a globally competitive knowledge economy," he told an audience of vice-chancellors.
Professor Smith's comments are rather amusing: I wonder where he has been for the last 30 years - the rot set in with  with the Thatcher attack on the universities in 1980, and this is where that regime has brought us. Now we have another right-wing party in power, with the same destructive urge towards all things in the public sphere. It has already announced that it will welcome the establishment of more private universities (which are essentially teaching mills) and it can't be long before it decides that universities in general are an unwelcome call on the public purse.

24 August 2010

An alternative to peer review

Terry Brooks - our Associate Editor for North America drew my attention to an article in the New York Times about attempts by humanities scholars to replace the traditional peer review process. The NYT reports that the Shakespeare Quarterly:
posted online four essays not yet accepted for publication, and a core group of experts... were [sic]  invited to post their signed comments on the Web site MediaCommons, a scholarly digital network. Others could add their thoughts as well, after registering with their own names. In the end 41 people made more than 350 comments, many of which elicited responses from the authors. The revised essays were then reviewed by the quarterly’s editors, who made the final decision to include them in the printed journal, due out Sept. 17.
The question that Terry raised was whether or not such a process could exist in our field and, more specifically, is this something that Information Research could pioneer?

I have my doubts.  Partly because I do not see a great willingness of those researching the field to contribute to debate.  For example, the various academic discussion lists are virtually devoid of anything but conference announcements, job announcements, requests for hotel room sharing and similar matters. Debate on scholarly issues is lacking.  This is paralleled by the relative paucity of debate at conferences.

The other reason is that some submitted work is so poorly written that, were it to be released before refereeing and copy-editing, it would simply be ignored, no matter whether or not it presented novel results or methods or theory. And I can't imagine spending time on copy-editing a piece (I have spent almost 10 hours this past week working on one paper) only to have it 'rejected' by the community.

However, I'll be interested to have your views :-)


16 July 2010

Open access and the publishers

In her latest blog entry Heather Morrison takes apart the publishers' arguments on their contribution to the economic well-being of Denmark.   Worth reading.

21 June 2010

Open access - again

The Research Information Network (a very worthy organization which, consequently,will probably be axed under the new coalition government regime) has produced An introduction to open access.  As is so often the case, the guide (which is intended for researchers) fails to distinguish effectively between true open access, where there are neither subscription costs nor author charges and partial open access, which involves author charging.  Both of these go under the label of gold access, following a distinction suggested years ago by Steven Harnad.  But these are not identical methods of achieving open access, which is why I describe true open access as Platinum access.  So-called "gold" simply transfers the production costs to the author, from the subscriber; "platinum" calls upon neither of these sources for finance but relies upon either subsidies or voluntary work, or a combination of the two.

Governments, universities and research funding agencies around the world have been slow to see the potential of the platinum route - largely it seems (at least in the case of governments) to protect the publishers. The exceptions are countries in the smaller language groups, where publication of scholarly research has generally been through journals produced by universities, produced with subsidies, and exchanged around the world for other journals to reduce library acquisition costs.  In such cases, the transfer to free, subsidised open access has been quite logical and simple to achieve.

The economics of scholarly publishing undoubtedly support the platinum route since social benefit is maximised in this way.  It is possible, although I hold out little hope, that the current financial crisis in the UK will lead institutions to embrace the platinum method: individual universities, or, better, collaboration between universities would enable the publication of journals in specific disciplines which could be funded at very low costs, and universities could require researchers to publish in these journals, just as they mandate the deposition of papers in institutional archives.

How low are the costs?  Well, taking Information Research as an example of the platinum journal, the only direct costs of production are borne by the University of Lund and those costs amount to whatever proportion of server maiintenance costs can be attributed to the journal: I imagine that these costs are rather low.  All other costs: editing, copy-editing, reviewing, layout, production, are borne by the voluntary workers of the journal.  Is there really any economic case to answer?

19 June 2010

The state of the universities

An article by Anthony Grafton (of Princeton University) in the New York Review of Books (April 8-28), page 32 entitled "Britain: the disgrace of the universities" points to the decline of the humanities in Britain, rightly attributing the decline to the target setting, 'new managerialism' culture that now pervades all but the most ancient of our universities. Grafton points out that once upon a time visiting US academics envied the conditions in British universities - but no longer.  And things will get worse.  Not only do we now have Vice-Chancellors who believe that students are "customers" and that they are running businesses, but they are also anxious to keep on the right side of the prevailing political ideology at the same time as they try to maintain funds by ensuring that not too many overseas students manage to fail their courses.  Indeed, failing courses seems to be very difficult these days - after all, the "customer" might sue the institution. Grafton is not entirely complacent about conditions in the USA:

"In Iowa, in Nevada, and in other places there's talk of closing humanities departments. If you start hearing newspeak about "sustainable excellence clusters", watch out. We'll be following the British down the short road to McDonald's."
I suspect that Grafton has got it right to a greater extent than he knows - certainly the UK government's policy of reducing places in universities (while other countries with bigger problems in Europe are increasing them) leads one to suspect that they would be very grateful if the McDonald's University model could be applied more widely.

09 June 2010

Safari v.5

Safari version 5 is now up and running and the Reader feature works fine for me. If a page is "Readable" the fact is shown by an icon on the right-hand side of the address bar or you can implement it with "Control+Shift+R. I suspect that it makes use of the Mac "Preview" app Take a look here for a review of the new features and a benchmark test, showing that it is (for the moment!) the fastest browser around.   The figure below shows what that review looks like in the reader - you can print the Reader version or e-mail it (as long as you use Apple's Mail application), enlarge or reduce it:

07 June 2010

Murdoch and the British Library, plus Digg in trouble?

Today's Guardian newspaper has a couple of items of interest in its Media supplement. Front page news is that James Murdoch is making a bit of an idiot of himself again - all in the family aim of taking over the world's media. Now he's complaining about the fact that the BL aims to digitise pre-1900 newspapers from its collection - all of them out of copyright, of course, and excluding (sad to say) the Times - part of daddy's empire. In fact, again sadly, the BL is collaborating with a commercial digitisation company which will charge for Internet access to the files. They will only be freely accessible if you use them in the British Library at St. Pancras - shame! This is part of the national cultural heritage and, as taxes already paid for their acquisition, the digital versions should be freely available.

The second bit of news is about the problems the bookmarking site, Digg, is having - digging itself into an early grave, perhaps? Apparently it has lost one third of its users, dropping to 24.7 million a month in April. The writer of the item attributes this to dropping the "Digg bar", which kept users on the site - but who knows, perhaps people are just getting bored with bookmarking?

06 June 2010

Google in trouble again

I see that Google is in trouble again with its Street View activities. The BBC News reports:

The Australian police have been ordered to investigate Google for possible breach of privacy while taking pictures for its Street View service.

Australia's attorney general said he had asked police to probe the internet giant following complaints that Google had gathered personal data from some unencrypted wi-fi services.
Google has admitted doing so, but apologised, saying it was in error.

05 June 2010

Odds and ends

Apple's Safari browser - which I now use most of the time - is rumoured to be due for an update and it's said that the browser will incorporate a "Reader" device. This will strip out the text of an article from a Web page and present it on screen. I can imagine that this idea will be picked up by other browsers quite quickly since there is nothing more frustrating (well, little, anyway) than trying to read an article with all the flashing sidebars, ads and other stupidity going on around. Let's have it quickly, I say.

Then there's a bit of non-news: Internet Explorer 6.0 has now fallen to hold just 4.7% of the market. Sometimes the tech blogs obviously have a difficult time finding news. After all, we've had IE7 and IE8 for some time now, so it's hardly news that version 6.0 is declining in use. The article suggests that the rise of Chrome is the reason for IE's overall decline, but Chrome rose from 7.7% to 8.1% in May, so I'm dubious.

Finally, the "k" word takes a real battering in a recently announced White Paper from Europeana:

"Knowledge, then, is information that has been made part of a specific context and is useful in this context. The contextualisation processes leading to a specific set of information becoming knowledge can be based on social relations (information as part of a group of people's apprehension of the world, information present in the memory of a person) or semantically based (information related to contextual information via shared properties and thus becoming part of a semantic 'class' of information). On this level of knowledge it becomes possible, as well, to derive new knowledge (or at least new information) from combined existing knowledge: a form of interpolative – albeit very mechanical – reasoning such as the one based on formal logic in artificial intelligence applications."

It would be difficult to find any more confusion about the word than this. And yet the distinction is quite simple: knowledge is what we know and information is what we report about what we know. The notion that knowledge is "information that has been made part of a specific context" is quite absurd, since without context we have only data. The datum 29035, for example, is meaningless, until we put it in the context of (for example) Mount Everest, when it then become "information" - if (and it's a big if, these days), I manage to store that information in whatever way the brain allows, it becomes part of my general "knowledge" of the world. Of course, it could also be the brand number of a Ferrari watch, or the number of schools in Sind province without power... context makes the datum information.

And so the "knowledge" hype continues and continues to induce nothing but confusion. Well done, Europeana! (Whatever that is - I have no "knowledge" of the organization.)

04 June 2010

Start again?

It's been pointed out to me that there are various ways of controlling comment spam, which I hope I have now put in place. However, this change means that if you want to comment you have to become a 'member' of the blog. I'll be interested to see how many members decide to join :-)

So - consider this the first entry under the new regime. I'm not likely to post very often because most of my interest is now in my photo-blog, which you can find at:


I hope you enjoy the pictures there.

18 February 2010

Final post

I give up - my Comments section now contains nothing but spam messages - nine on this last occasion and I do not have time to remove all of this nonsense - so, goodbye to blogging.

09 February 2010


I recently discovered 'photoblogs' - like blogs, but you post pictures instead of text. There are a number of these, but I came across Shutterchance by accident and, having explored further, I think it is probably the best. There's a free membership option, or you can take out a subscription and get access to additional features.

I've used Flickr for some time now, but the sense of community in Shutterchance is much stronger: once you begin to exchange comments, the number of contacts grows quickly - you discover a new photoblogger and find that its already been discovered by others who comment on yours. The aim of people appears to be welcoming and quietly, constructively critical - unlike Flickr, to which I suspect that some of the same people who file aggressive comments to blogs and discussion lists are drawn.

The difficulty is that blogging and photoblogging take time! To the point at which I'm seriously thinking of stopping this blog and continuing with my photoblog, which you'll find here.

There are also directories or aggregators of photoblogs - the two best known are photoblogs.org and vfxy.com.

05 February 2010

02 February 2010

Is Steve Jobs really so illiterate?

I was struck by a comment on the Apple Insider site, where Jobs is reported as saying, in respect of the battery life of the new (court case pending?) iPad (tradename of Hewlett Packard):

"It's all about the display," Jobs said of battery life. "Our chips don't use hardly any power."

"Our chips don't hardly use any power." !!!!! Surely not, this must be a just out of high school reporter here :-) Or perhaps, just perhaps, Jobs meant what he said and the vaunted battery life of the [name removed for fear of legal action] device is not so great???

13 January 2010

OA, quality and citability

Articles whose authors make them Open Access (OA) by self-archiving them online are cited significantly more than articles accessible only to subscribers. Some have suggested that this "OA Advantage" may not be causal but just a self-selection bias, because authors preferentially make higher-quality articles OA. To test this we compared self-selective self-archiving with mandatory self-archiving for a sample of 27,197 articles published 2002-2006 in 1,984 journals. The OA Advantage proved just as high for both. Logistic regression showed that the advantage is independent of other correlates of citations (article age; journal impact factor; number of co-authors, references or pages; field; article type; or country) and greatest for the most highly cited articles. The OA Advantage is real, independent and causal, but skewed. Its size is indeed correlated with quality, just as citations themselves are (the top 20% of articles receive about 80% of all citations). The advantage is greater for the more citeable articles, not because of a quality bias from authors self-selecting what to make OA, but because of a quality advantage, from users self-selecting what to use and cite, freed by OA from the constraints of selective accessibility to subscribers only

So say Yassine Gargouri, Chawki Hajjem, Vincent Lariviere, Yves Gingras, Les Carr, Tim Brody, and Stevan Harnad in a paper drawn to my attention by Open Access News: Self-selected or mandated, open access increases citation impact for higher quality research.

12 January 2010

E-book readers

The e-book reader market seems set to explode, at least from the supplier side. Whether the plethora of new devices will a) make it to market and b) sell enough to stay in business, is another matter. There's a report of new devices on display at CES this year on the ZD Net site, with prices ranging from $300 to $800 and more. Is anyone really going to spend $800 to read the daily newspaper? After all, if you are really pushed, you can probably pull it out of a trash can at the end of the day and read it for free :-) AND you can then shred it and use it as kitty litter!

A number of the readers are from new suppliers and I suspect that these will be the first to disappear: Amazon and Sony have been first to market (at least first successfully) and are likely to dominate, since they already have cash flow from their devices and will continue to develop, whereas a newcomer is going to find it difficult to establish themselves. Unless, of course, it is the promised Apple tablet...

How big will the market be, I wonder? The obvious user is the traveller, since it is easy to put several hundred books on to a reader and take up very little space in your travel bag, and the public transport commuter might also benefit, if the ambient lighting is good enough. I can see myself using one for these reasons, but not as a replacement for the book in the hand by the fireside or in bed. The younger generation may see things differently , of course: if the iPhone is a permanent extension of your hand and you spend virtually all day using it for one reason or another (including reading e-books), you may be attracted by something about the size of a paperback book, which will be easier to read and the lending of e-books from academic libraries is becoming a pretty standard service, so... time will tell.

06 January 2010

Brian Vickery

I have just learned of the death of Brian Vickery at the age of 91 on October 17th. We had communicated not long before that, when Brian expressed an interest in my writings on activity theory. It transpired that he had had a lifelong interest in Soviet psychology. Readers of this blog will probably be aware that last year he also provided an introduction to the special issue of the Journal of Information Science celebrating its fiftieth year.

I first met Brian in, I think, 1959, when I was working in industry and arranged to travel down to Welwyn Garden City, where he was librarian in one of the ICI labs. We had contact ever after that and, as fate would have it, both ended up as Departmental Heads in LIS schools :-)

Brian was a kindly man and will be missed by those who knew him.